Ageless wonder, Alistair Overeem, attempts to continue his quest for another Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title shot this Saturday (Feb. 6, 2021) when he meets Alexander Volkov atop the promotion’s return to Las Vegas, Nevada. Earlier that evening, Cory Sandhagen throws hands with Frankie Edgar, Beneil Dariush battles Diego Ferreira in a clash for Lightweight contender status, and Alexandre Pantoja welcomes Rizin standout Manel Kape to the Octagon.
Four UFC Vegas 18 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), all carefully dissected and ready for your perusal below.
155 lbs.: Michael Johnson vs. Clay Guida
Reeling from losses in five of his previous seven fights, Michael Johnson (19-6) looked on track to finally right the ship after a dominant first round against Thiago Moises in May 2020. Instead, the Brazilian caught Johnson in an ankle lock, forcing the ninth tap of “The Menace’s” career.
He’ll enjoy a three-inch height advantage and 3.5 inches of reach.
Back in 2017, Clay Guida (35-20) put together his first multi-fight win streak since 2011 with consecutive victories over Erik Koch and Joe Lauzon. He has since dropped three of four bouts, the sole win coming over a badly faded B.J. Penn in 2019.
He has submitted 15 professional opponents and knocked out another five.
Losing to monsters like Khabib, Justin Gaethje and Josh Emmett is nothing to be ashamed of, but Johnson’s inability to execute in winning match ups against Darren Elkins, Stevie Ray and the aforementioned Moises make it impossible to put any faith in him. While he’s got Guida hilariously out-gunned on the feet, “The Menace” is still a dead fish off of his back, and I’m not convinced he can stay focused long enough to keep Guida from putting him there.
Johnson has all the tools to win this, but he’s had all the tools to win a lot of his fights, and look at where he is now. I suspect Guida gets battered early before capitalizing on Johnson’s inevitable meltdown for a late finish.
Prediction: Guida via third round submission
205 lbs.: Mike Rodriguez vs. Danilo Marques
A dominant “Contender Series” victory for Mike Rodriguez (11-5) has given way to an inconsistent 2-3 (1 NC) UFC run. His most recent defeat was absolutely loaded with controversy, however; he seemingly knocked out Ed Herman with a knee to the body that the referee incorrectly deemed a low blow, allowing “Short Fuse” to recover and ultimately land a comeback kimura (highlights).
He has never gone the distance in victory, knocking out nine.
Danilo Marques (10-2) — who came up just short in his sole LFA appearance — ended a 31-month layoff when he stepped in to face Khadis Ibragimov last year. In an ugly affair, he used consistent takedowns and back control to defeat the Sambo veteran by unanimous decision.
He faces a five-inch reach disadvantage despite standing two inches taller than “Slo Mike.”
If Rodriguez has any future in the Octagon, he has to beat Marques convincingly. The Brazilian has almost nothing to offer besides middling wrestling and ground game, being a non-entity on the feet, but Rodriguez can’t seem to stop a takedown to save his life. If Rodriguez has failed to address the flaws that let Devin Clark, Ed Herman and even striking specialist John Allan plant him on his back with impunity, he could very well lose this.
I’ll admit that this could be optimism talking, as I enjoy watching Rodriguez ply his craft on the feet, but I think he’s at least good enough to destroy someone on Marques’ subterranean level. In the end, he crushes the Brazilian with heavy strikes in the first round.
Prediction: Rodriguez via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Martin Day vs. Timur Valiev
Though unsuccessful against Jaime Alvarez on “Contender Series,” Martin Day (16-4) punched his ticket to the Octagon with three consecutive wins, including a knockout of then-unbeaten Brady Huang. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon, however, dropping a controversial decision to Liu Pingyuan in his debut and suffering stoppage losses to Davey Grant and Anderson dos Santos in 2020.
He replaces Julio Arce on a week’s notice.
The impressive runs in Professional Fighters League (PFL) and on the European scene made Timur Valiev (16-2) a massive favorite in his Octagon debut against late replacement Trevin Jones, and a dominant first round seemed to prove the bookies right. Jones wound up scoring a comeback knockout, handing “Lucky” his first definitive loss since his professional debut, but soon saw his win overturned after a failed drug test.
Valiev gives up nearly four inches of reach to “The Spartan.”
While Valiev did get caught against Jones, he remains an immensely talented fighter with the skills to make a run at contention. He’s definitely more than capable of handling Day, boasting the kickboxing craft to shut down Day’s long-range offense and the wrestling to exploit the Hawaiian’s lacking ground game.
Unless the Jones loss significantly compromised Valiev’s confidence or his chin, he’s way too much for Day. In the end, he leans on rapid-fire boxing and far superior wrestling to sweep the cards.
Prediction: Valiev via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Justin Jaynes vs. Devonte Smith
Justin Jaynes (16-6) enjoyed about as perfect an Octagon debut as possible, demolishing Frank Camacho in just 41 seconds to earn “Performance of the Night.” Subsequent efforts proved less successful, as “Guitar Hero” suffered stoppage losses to Gavin Tucker and Gabriel Benitez.
He steps in for Alex da Silva on less than one week’s notice.
Devonte Smith (10-2) dispatched his “Contender Series” foe and first three Octagon opponents in less than one round apiece, improving his career knockout total to nine and securing a post-fight bonus along the way. “King Kage” entered his subsequent clash with Khama Worthy as more than a -1000 favorite in places, only to fall victim to one of the biggest numerical upsets in UFC history (watch it).
He’ll have two inches of height and almost nine inches of reach on Jaynes.
Smith was in serious trouble against da Silva, who boasted enough striking chops to hold his own on the feet and looked exponentially superior on the ground. He figures to have less of an issue with Jaynes, a far more one-dimensional striker facing a ridiculous reach disadvantage. Smith’s hands are both sharper and heavier, and Jaynes’ tendency to swing for the fences should leave him vulnerable to Smith’s calf kicks as well.
If the Worthy loss damaged Smith’s chin or exposed heretofore-unknown fragility, a Jaynes knockout isn’t out of the question. Jaynes is coming off some rough losses of his own, however, and faces such a disadvantageous stylistic match up that it’s hard to see him winning even in a best-case scenario. In short, Smith wipes him out in the first round.
Prediction: Smith by first-round knockout
There are a whole heap of fights on here that you absolutely do not want to miss. See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 18 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 18: “Overeem vs. Volkov” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.